The Tara Brooch is a sensational artifact that was discovered on a beach in Bettystown, County Meath, Ireland in 1850. Today, it is considered one of the greatest surviving masterpieces of Celtic metalwork.
Analysis of the 8th-century relic revealed that it was made with gold, silver, copper, amber, and colored glass. Both sides of the Tara Brooch are decorated in fine detail and display exquisite craftsmanship. A silver chain of plaited wire is attached to the brooch via a swivel attachment. Apart from fastening its owner’s cloak, the brooch is thought to have also served as a sign of wealth and high status.
Much of the brooch’s decoration is interlace and consists of both zoomorphic and abstract forms, such as scrolls and triple spirals. These are prominent motifs in the Celtic artistic tradition and are full of symbolic significance. Animal motifs that can be detected on the Tara Brooch include birds and the heads of wolves and dragons. In the Celtic world, such symbols were thought to hold the power to protect their users from evil.
“Along with such treasures as the Ardagh Chalice and the Derrynaflan Paten, the Tara Brooch can be considered to represent the pinnacle of early medieval Irish metalworkers’ achievement,” writes the National Museum of Ireland. “Each individual element of decoration is executed perfectly, and the range of technique represented on such a small object is astounding.”
Top image: Copy of the 8th century Tara Brooch. Source: Kotomi_/CC BY NC 2.0